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Second Prize: Stickman Review
V2N2 Fiction Contest

The Dress with Girl Not in It
By Peter Markus

It’s our mother’s dress, the dress that us brothers slipped and tugged up and over the top of Girl’s head, that night when we made Girl, made her out of the mud, made her up from the mud, us brothers, down by the river, down on our hands and knees, down in the river made mud—it is that same dress that is the dress that us brothers, we see it floating, a floating dead fish of a dress, floating down our dirty river, and Girl, Girl whose flowey dress this dress is, is nowhere to be found by it, or inside of it, or nowhere even near it, this dress. But where’s Girl? is what us brothers, we both of us, we want to know this. Where Girl is, this is one thing, Brother says. But what she is wearing, that is another. What do you think Girl is wearing? I say. Not our mother’s dress, Brother says back. Good is what I tell him. I never did like it her. On Girl, Brother asks, or on our mother. Both, I say to this. Do you think she’s found another dress? Brother says. I think, I say back, that she’s back to being the way that we made her. That means she’s naked, then. Yes, Brother, on this, he has got his mind set on this: his head, it is a head that is stuck in that mud. So I say to Brother what Brother has heard me say more than twice before. I remind him that, we are all of us naked underneath our clothes. This time, him hearing this, it gets him thinking: not about Girl being naked. What it gets him thinking about is our mother. Even our mother is naked underneath her clothes? he asks, then he shoots me this look that us brothers, we have these looks between us, and what this look says is, I don’t want to think about that. I nod with my head and can’t help my moony face from making one of those I’ve just bitten into something that it tastes really awful kind of faces when I tell him: yes, Brother, even our mother is naked underneath her clothes. And the both of us brothers, we start up running as if we’re running to run away from that place. But what we are really doing is we are running to that place where we think that Girl is most likely to be hiding out, up river not too far, up where the mill it sits like a shipwrecked ship that one day had run itself a ground and then it didn’t know where else to go to. And so it stayed. And men like our father who wear hard hats and carry lunch buckets packed with bologna and cheese sandwiches, these men, they started filing one by one inside it and they kept on coming until smoke started funneling out through its top and coal fires were stoked inside of its belly, and after a while coils of shining steel were being made on the inside of this place that had, once upon a time ago, it was a ship that had lost itself at sea. It is here, then, in the shadow of this, this ship, this mill where metal used to be made, this is where us brothers, that night, not too long ago, this is where we made Girl. Here, out of river and dirt—us brothers—we made mud. We made Girl. Girl was made naked. Even in the dark of night night, Girl’s made out of mud body shined, it shined brand new, it shined with the shine of the never before seen. Us brothers, our muddy eyes, you should’ve seen our eyes. Our eyes—they became moons, that night. Then lighthouses. Then they became hands that taught us that to touch a thing so beautiful you can only touch it once. Twice, touch it twice, and its beauty will banish you with its beauty. Brother, Brother’s eyes, his were the muddy hands that did not know just to look—not touch. We gotta get Girl dressed. This was what Brother said, because he knew what his right hand was wanting to reach up and do. She’s cold, Brother said. But it was not cold, that night. That night, the mud was hot to our touches: it was this melty thing melting in our muddy hands. But Brother’s head, his head was now set on getting Girl dressed. Brother left and when he came back he was holding in his arms an arm full of girl clothes. Where’d you get those? is what I wanted to be told. So what Brother told me was, From our mother’s closet. Our mother’s closet? I did not even have to say it, those words. What I did was I gave Brother another one of those looks that us brothers had between us: it was the kind of a look that actually hurt the face of the brother who was doing this looking. Imagine that look. But where else was I supposed to look? was what Brother had to say. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to say to this. So, I took back that look. But you, look right now. Look away from looking at us brothers, and look at the river, look so that you can see the dress that is now slowly floating down and away. This dress is yellow. No, that’s not right: this dress is a kind of blue. It is brown. It is the color the water is. It is a fish—it is a fish that has forgotten how to swim: it is a fish floating across the sky. Now it is a kite. Now it is a star. No, now, what this is is, it is a dress with no one in-side it. It is blowing, it is floating, it is going away. The wind, it is taking it away from us who are here trying to look. If it looks like there is a girl in-side it, this dress, this this: look closer. There is no girl there inside it. This dress, it is just a dress, it is girl less. But Girl. You know: Girl. Girl, she is another story. Us brothers, we know where to go to go see Girl. Girl is out in the river, she is out standing out in the middle of the river, standing with her legs spread wide at the hips so that ships cutting up the channel going to places up river, up beyond our town, where there are city lights there even though through all the mud and smoke we cannot see them—she is standing in such a way, out in the river, so that the river’s muddy water is just barely touching her knees. Her knees are especially muddy. Her knees are knees that when we made them, us brothers—we wanted to remain forever kneeling. They were that muddy. You can see them now. You can see more than that now. Girl is back to being now just mud. That is to say, Girl is back to being the way that we made her, back to being the way she was made to be: naked, nude, bare, pure mud. Us brothers, when we see her standing out in the middle of the river, the all of Girl, the full moon of Girl for all eyes to see, to see her the way that Girl was meant to be seen—naked, naked, nude, nude—what we do is we run up to Girl, we are running up through and in-to the shadow of Girl—the shadow of Girl, it is a cloud that is closing in on top of us brothers: it is a big mouthed fish teaching us littler fish how to fly —this is us fishing our way towards that mouth, out to where Girl is standing: us brothers, we are stones skipped across the river’s water: this muddy river, it is a road that does not have a name. It does not have a name, so, us brothers, we decide to name it. We decide to name it the same way we give names to every one of those fish that us brothers fish out of this dirty river that runs through this dirty river town. No, we do not call this road Jimmy or John. Jimmy and John is me and my brother’s names. We call each other Brother. This road, this dirty river, this dirty river road—us brothers—we decide to call it Girl. When we call it Girl, this dirty river of a road throws out its mud carpet for us brothers to walk across it. Us brothers, we do not walk across it. We run across it. We run until we are run out of river, until we are running half the way up the leg that is the leg of Girl. Girl’s leg is a ladder that ladders us brothers up, up to where Girl’s head it has punched a hole into the sky. We are looking right now Girl in the eye. There is an eye for each of us brothers. Girl’s eyes are on the other side of sky. Girl’s eyes are moons. Girl’s eyes are even bigger than that other moon that you know about, you know the moon that you see floating in the sky when you look at night out the window—that moon, you could hold that moon in the palm of your hand, that’s how small it is compared to how big Girl’s eyes are when you look at them like this and see them the way they were meant to be seen, this way up close. What’re you doing here? is what we say to Girl when we get beyond this way of looking. We ask this no, not to know what is she doing standing mud naked in the middle of the river. We know what she’s doing when she is doing that. What we want to know is what is she doing with her hands. In Girl’s hands, Girl is holding what could be a ball of snow—it is that white. It could be, if the light was right, if it was night out instead of being day, you might be made to believe that in her hands Girl was holding the moon. Or maybe even molding the moon back to being full. But believe this when I tell you this, in Girl’s hands, what looks to be a ball of snow, or a moon—it isn’t. What it is is, it is a ball made out of cloud. And Girl, Girl is rolling, she is pinching these white yarny pieces in between her I’ve got a gun finger and thumb. And Girl is doing with these linty pieces of gathered up cloud what our mother used to do back in the whiteness of winter—days when she’d needle us wool sweaters that never did fit us stitched from rolls of itchy yarn. I’m making myself a dress is what Girl tells us brothers what she is doing. Why on earth, is what I am thinking, would Girl want to wear a dress? Girl is perfect just the way she is, with no dress on to cover up her mud. To put a dress on this, on top of this, over this—this would be, in this brother’s eyes, wrong: it would be just plain bad: it would be dumb, dumb, dumb. Would be like if the moon were to one night rise into the night’s sky wearing a black dress on to keep its light from reaching the earth. That too would be dumb. But Girl is not dumb. Girl knows what is good and what is bad. So what I want to know is, what is Girl thinking! What has gotten into Girl’s head? And this is what I ask her. What, I say, are you thinking? Why would you want to make for yourself a dress? Our mother’s dress, that was Brother’s idea. But this! To this, Girl reaches out to me and she takes me in her hand. She takes me in her hand and then she takes my hand and tells me to feel. My hand, it reaches out and it touches the part of Girl’s body where Girl has just now told me to feel. This is where Girl’s heart is. I can feel it, the beat of it, that drum, beating underneath the mud that is Girl’s skin. But Girl’s skin: this, I must tell you: it is like the river is when the river freezes over. It’s that cold: it is ice. And so when I reach my hand up and in to take hold of Girl’s heart, to warm it up, to hold it up close to my own heart, the heart that is Girl’s, this heart made out of mud, this heart that is shaped like a fish: when I touch it—it shatters into a million pieces. Each broken chunk becomes a star.

Stickman End of Poem

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